Tips for Writing a Better Essay - UW HELP

Tips for Writing a Better Essay

Did you notice anything about the essay questions? The questions are not made to weed you out. They’re designed to give a little glimpse of the human being behind the application.

Write like you, about you

Your UWs realize you’re still young. You’re a work in progress. That means no matter how well you did in high school, what matters most is the challenges you faced and how you responded. It’s also worth saying that while your instincts probably tell you to puff up your accomplishments and go big, bragging is never interesting. Give yourself permission to just be you when you write.

Questions to get you started

  • What are your 2 biggest academic achievements?
  • What are your 2 biggest personal achievements?
  • What are your 2 biggest strengths?
  • What were your 2 biggest challenges?
  • What are the 2 biggest obstacles you’ve overcome (and how did you do it)?
  • What are your 2 biggest failures (and what did you learn)?
  • What beliefs have you challenged (why, and what did you learn)?


  • Write your essay in a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs so you can simply copy and paste it into your online application.
  • Keep your essay between 250 and 650 words (UW–Madison requires all essays to strictly follow these guidelines).
  • Ask a friend or teacher to look for inconsistencies, grammatical mistakes, and typos.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. You don’t want some small mistake to accidentally make it look like you don’t care.
  • Proofread again.


  • Tell your UWs something about yourself that you can’t capture in the application.
  • Jump off the bandwagon. Don’t write what you think your UWs will want to hear. Let your UWs know about what drives you.
  • Use your own voice. Ask someone you trust to read your essay to see if it “sounds like you.”
  • Be short and sweet. Clear, concise writing matters more than length.
  • Show, don’t tell. Be specific and factual.
  • Write about your real life. Don’t exaggerate or embellish (you’d be surprised at how well your UWs can smell baloney).
  • Be confident. Skip all the maybes, sort ofs, I thinks, and so on.

Essay Questions

Check out the actual questions from your UWs that you’ll need to answer in your essay.